Early Childhood Education Journal

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 15–28 | Cite as

Integrating STEM into Preschool Education; Designing a Professional Development Model in Diverse Settings

  • Kimberly Brenneman
  • Alissa Lange
  • Irena NayfeldEmail author


High quality early childhood education and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning have gained recognition as key levers in the progress toward high quality education for all students. STEM activities can be an effective platform for providing rich learning experiences that are accessible to dual language learners and students from all backgrounds. To do this well, teachers need professional development on how to integrate STEM into preschool curricula, and how to design experiences that support the dual language learners in the classroom. To address this need, a professional development model was designed to empower preschool educators to provide rich, high-quality STEM learning experiences, with particular emphasis on working in schools serving children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. This model was created based on best practices in adult learning and teacher professional development, on developmentally appropriate STEM concepts and teaching interactions, and in collaboration with educators to design professional supports that were responsive to their needs. We worked in under-resourced communities in a North East state in the United States to design a model that is culturally appropriate, and that is flexible enough to be implemented within any curricula and with a variety of materials. In this article, we outline the main components and the iterative design process we undertook to ensure that the professional supports are relevant and effective for teachers and children. Finally, the article presents feedback from educators who participated in the design and implementation of the model, as well as discussion of how our process can inform other teacher educators and those interested in promoting early STEM in diverse preschool settings.


Professional development Early childhood STEM Teacher education Preschool Dual language learners Coaching 



This work was funded by a National Science Foundation Grant, DRL-1019576: Supports for Science and Mathematics Learning in Pre-Kindergarten Dual Language Learners: Designing a Professional Development System.


  1. Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010). Report to congress on dual language learners in Early Head Start and Head Start programs. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  2. Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2013). Report to congress on dual language in Head Start and Early Head Start programs. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  3. Anthony, G., & Walshaw, M. (2007). Effective pedagogy in pāngarau /mathematics: Best evidence synthesis iteration (BES). Wellington: Ministry of Education.Google Scholar
  4. Ball, D. L., & Cohen, D. K. (1999). Developing practice, developing practitioners: Toward a practice-based theory of professional development. In L. Darling-Hammond & G. Skyes (Eds.), Teaching as the learning professional: Handbook of policy and practice (pp. 3–32). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  5. Ballenger, C. (1992). Because you like us: The language of control. Harvard Educational Review, 62, 199–208.Google Scholar
  6. Bambino, D. (2002). Redesigning professional development: Critical friends. Educational Leadership, 59(6), 25–27.Google Scholar
  7. Barnett, W. S., Yarosz, D. J., Thomas, J., Jung, K., & Blanco, D. (2007). Two-way and monolingual English immersion in preschool education: An experimental comparison. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 22(3), 277–293.Google Scholar
  8. Bertram, T., & Pascal, C. (2016). Early childhood policies and systems in eight countries. International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  9. Blank, R. K., de las Alas, N., & Smith, C. (2007). Analysis of the quality of professional development programs for mathematics and science teachers: Findings from a cross-state study. Washington, DC: CCSSO.Google Scholar
  10. Brenneman, K. (2014). Science in the early years. Education Commission of the States Progress of Education Reform, 15(2), 1–6.Google Scholar
  11. Brenneman, K., & Louro, I. (2008). Science journals in the preschool classroom. Early Childhood Education Journal, 36, 113–119. Scholar
  12. Brenneman, K., Stevenson-Boyd, J., & Frede, E. (2009). Early mathematics and science: Preschool policy and practice. Preschool Policy Brief, 19. New Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research.Google Scholar
  13. Brown, E. T. (2005). The influence of teachers’ efficacy and beliefs regarding mathematics instruction in the early childhood classroom. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 26, 239–257.Google Scholar
  14. Buysse, V., Castro, D. C., West, T., & Skinner, M. (2005). Addressing the needs of Latino children: A national survey of state administrators of early childhood programs. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 20(2), 146–163.Google Scholar
  15. Campbell-Barr, V., & Bogatić, K. (2017). Global to local perspectives of early childhood education and care. Early Child Development and Care, 187(10), 1461–1470. Scholar
  16. Casey, B., Erkut, S., Ceder, I., & Young, J. M. (2008). Use of a storytelling context to improve girls’ and boys’ geometry skills in kindergarten. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29, 29–48. Scholar
  17. Castro, D. C., Páez, M. M., Dickinson, D. K., & Frede, E. (2011). Promoting language and literacy in young dual language learners: Research, practice, and policy. Child Development Perspectives, 5(1), 15–21.Google Scholar
  18. Cheatham, G. A., Jimenez-Silva, M., & Park, H. (2015). Teacher feedback to support oral language learning for young dual language learners. Early Child Development and Care, 185(9), 1452–1463.Google Scholar
  19. Clements, D. H., Copple, C., & Hyson, M. (Eds.). (2002). Early childhood mathematics: Promoting good beginnings. In A joint position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (rev. ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children/ National Council for Teachers of Mathematics.Google Scholar
  20. Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2011). Early childhood mathematics intervention. Science, 333(6045), 968–970.Google Scholar
  21. Copley, J., & Padrón, Y. (1999). Preparing teachers of young learners: Professional development of early childhood teachers in mathematics and science. In Dialogue on early childhood science, mathematics, and technology education. Washington, DC: Project 2061, American Association for Advancement of Science.Google Scholar
  22. Costa, A. L., & Garmston, R. J. (2002). Cognitive coaching: A foundation for renaissance schools. Norwood: Christopher-Gordon.Google Scholar
  23. Design-Based Research Collective. (2003). Theme issue: The role of design in educational research. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 21–24.Google Scholar
  24. Donovan, M. S., Bransford, J. D., & Pellegrino, J. W. (1999). How people learn: Bridging research and practice. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  25. Drago-Severson, E. (2009). Leading adult learning: Supporting adult development in our schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.Google Scholar
  26. Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., Klebanov, P., et al. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43, 1428–1466. Scholar
  27. Dymond, S. K., & Bentz, J. L. (2006). Using digital videos to enhance teacher preparation. Teacher Education and Special Education, 29(2), 98–112.Google Scholar
  28. Espinosa, L. (2010). Classroom teaching and instruction: What are “best practices” for young English language learners? In E. E. Garcia & E. Frede (Eds.), Developing the research agenda for young English Language Learners. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  29. Fantuzzo, J. W., Gadsden, V. L., & McDermott, P. A. (2011). An integrated curriculum to improve mathematics, language, and literacy for Head Start children. American Educational Research Journal, 48(3), 763–793.Google Scholar
  30. Farran, D. C., Lipsey, M., Watson, B., & Hurley, S. (2007), Balance of content emphasis and child content engagement in an Early Reading First program. In D. Clements (chair), How should preschoolers spend their day? Integration and conflicts across developmental areas. Paper symposium presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL, April.Google Scholar
  31. Flevares, L. M., & Schiff, J. R. (2014). Learning mathematics in two dimensions: A review and look ahead at teaching and learning early childhood mathematics with children’s literature. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1–12.Google Scholar
  32. Freedson, M. (2010). Workforce preparation: Educating preschool teachers to support English language learners. In E. E. Garcia & E. Frede (Eds.), Developing the research agenda for young English Language Learners. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  33. French, L. (2004). Science as the center of a coherent, integrated, early childhood curriculum. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 19, 138–149.Google Scholar
  34. Friedman-Krauss, A. H., Barnett, S. W., Weisenfeld, G. G., Kasmin, R., DiCrecchio, N., & Horowitz, M. (2018). The state of preschool 2017: State preschool yearbook. New Brunswick: National Institute for Early Education Research.Google Scholar
  35. Fuccillo, J. (2011). Higher-level instructional interaction in Head Start classrooms: Variation across teacher-directed activities and associations with school readiness outcomes. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Miami, FL.Google Scholar
  36. Gallacher, K. (1995). Coaching partnerships: Refining early intervention practices. Missoula: Montana University Affiliated Rural Institute on Disabilities.Google Scholar
  37. Garcia, E. E., & Rodriguez, J. (2000). The education of limited English proficient students in California schools. Bilingual Research Journal, 27, 475–501.Google Scholar
  38. García, E. E., & Frede, E. (Eds.). (2010). Young English language learners: Current research and emerging directions for practice and policy. Early Childhood Education Series. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  39. Ginsburg, H. P., Lee, J. S., & Stevenson-Boyd, J. (2008). Mathematics education for young children: What it is and how to promote it. Society for Research in Child Development Social Policy Report, 22, 3–22.Google Scholar
  40. Graham, T. A., Nash, C., & Paul, K. (1997). Young children’s exposure to mathematics: The child care context. Early Childhood Education Journal, 25, 31–38.Google Scholar
  41. Greenfield, D., Jirout, J., Dominguez., X., Greenberg, A., Maier, M., & Fuccillo, J. (2009). Science in the preschool classroom: A programmatic research agenda to improve science readiness. Early Education & Development, 20, 238–264.Google Scholar
  42. Grissmer, D., Grimm, K. J., Aiyer, S. M., Murrah, W. M., & Steele, J. S. (2010). Fine motor skills and early comprehension of the world: Two new school readiness indicators. Developmental Psychology, 46(5), 1008–1017.Google Scholar
  43. Gün, B. (2010). Quality self-reflection through reflection training. ELT Journal, 65(2), 126–135.Google Scholar
  44. Hendricks, D. (2014). Dual language learners in Head Start: Examining teaching strategies that promote English language development. ProQuest Dissertation Publishing. Retrieved from
  45. Hill, H. C., Rowan, B., & Ball, D. L. (2005). Effects of teachers’ mathematical knowledge for teaching on student achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 42(2), 371–406.Google Scholar
  46. Kiggins, M. H. (2016). From isolation to collaboration: Examining the implementation and impact of professional learning communities on student achievement in mathematics. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A, 76.Google Scholar
  47. Lee, O. (2005). Science education with English language learners: Synthesis and research agenda. Review of Educational Research, 75(4), 491–530.Google Scholar
  48. Loeb, S., Rouse, C., & Shorris, A. (2007). Introducing the issue. Excellence in the classroom. The Future of Children, 17(1), 3–14.Google Scholar
  49. Matthews, H., & Ewen, D. (2005). Reaching all children? Understanding early care and education participation among immigrant families. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Social Policy.Google Scholar
  50. McCray, J. S., & Chen, J. (2012). Pedagogical content knowledge for preschool mathematics: Construct validity of a new teacher interview. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 26, 291–307.Google Scholar
  51. Méndez, L. I., Crais, E. R., Castro, D. C., & Kainz, K. (2015). A culturally and linguistically responsive vocabulary approach for young Latino dual language learners. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 58(1), 93–106.Google Scholar
  52. Morgan, P. L., Farkas, G., Hillemeier, M. M., & Maczuga, S. (2016). Science achievement gaps begin very early, persist, and are largely explained by modifiable factors. Educational Researcher, 45(1), 18–35.Google Scholar
  53. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). Promoting the educational success of children and youth learning english: Promising futures. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Scholar
  54. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2006). Curriculum focal points for prekindergarten through grade 8 mathematics: A quest for coherence. Washington, DC: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.Google Scholar
  55. National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008). Foundations for success: The final report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. US Department of Education.Google Scholar
  56. National Research Council. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Expanded edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Scholar
  57. National Research Council. (2006). Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K-8. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  58. National Research Council. (2009). Mathematics learning in early childhood: Paths toward excellence and equity. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  59. National Research Council. (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  60. Nayfeld, I., Brenneman, K., & Gelman, R. (2011). Science in the classroom: Finding a balance between autonomous exploration and teacher-led instruction in preschool settings. Early Education & Development, 22(6), 970–988.Google Scholar
  61. Neuman, S. B., & Wright, T. S. (2010). Promoting language and literacy development for early childhood educators: A mixed-methods study of coursework and coaching. The Elementary School Journal, 111(1), 63–86.Google Scholar
  62. Perry, B., Dockett, S., & Harley, E. (2007). Preschool educators’ sustained professional development in young children’s mathematics learning. Mathematics Teacher Education and Development, 8, 117–134.Google Scholar
  63. Peterson, S. M., & French, L. (2008). Supporting young children’s explanations through inquiry science in preschool. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 23, 395–408.Google Scholar
  64. Platas, L. M. (2008). Measuring teacher’s knowledge of early mathematical development and their beliefs about mathematics teaching and learning in the preschool classroom. Berkeley: ProQuest Publishing.Google Scholar
  65. Poglinco, S., & Bach, S. (2004). The heart of the matter: Coaching as a vehicle for professional development. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(5), 398–402.Google Scholar
  66. Poglinco, S. M., Bach, A. J., Hovde, K., Rosenblum, S., Saunders, M., & Supovitz, J. A. (2003). The heart of the matter: The coaching model in America’s Choice schools. Philadelphia: Consortium for Policy Research in Education, University of Pennsylvania.Google Scholar
  67. Richards, H. V., Brown, A. F., & Forde, T. B. (2007). Addressing diversity in schools: Culturally responsive pedagogy. Teaching Exceptional Children, 39(3), 64–68.Google Scholar
  68. Riley-Ayers, S., & Frede, E. (2009). Introduction to what works in early childhood curriculum. Early Childhood Services: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Effectiveness, 3(3), ix–xi.Google Scholar
  69. Roehrig, G. H., Dubosarsky, M., Mason, A., Carlson, S., & Murphy, B. (2011). We look more, listen more, notice more: Impact of sustained professional development on Head Start teachers’ inquiry-based and culturally-relevant science teaching practices. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 20(5), 566–578.Google Scholar
  70. Rudd, L. C., Lambert, M. C., Satterwhite, M., & Smith, C. H. (2009). Professional development + coaching = enhanced teaching: Increasing usage of math mediated language in preschool classrooms. Early Childhood Education Journal, 37(1), 63–69.Google Scholar
  71. Russo, A. (2004). School-based coaching. A revolution in professional development—Or just the latest fad? Harvard Education Letter, 20(4), 1–4.Google Scholar
  72. Ryan, S. K., Hornbeck, A., & Frede, E. (2004). Mentoring for change: A time use study of teacher consultants in preschool reform. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 6(1).Google Scholar
  73. Sarama, J., & diBiase, A. (2004). The professional development challenge in preschool mathematics. In D. Clements, J. Sarama & A. diBiase (Eds.), Engaging young children in mathematics: Standards for early childhood mathematics education (pp. 415–448). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  74. Sarama, J., Lange, A. A., Clements, D. H., & Wolfe, C. (2012). The impacts of an early mathematics curriculum on oral language and literacy. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27(3), 489–502.Google Scholar
  75. Smith, D. C., & Neale, D. C. (1989). The construction of subject matter knowledge in primary science teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 5(1), 1–20.Google Scholar
  76. Spring, J. (2008). Research on globalization and education. Review of Educational Research, 78(2), 330–363.Google Scholar
  77. Stipek, D. (2008). The price of inattention to mathematics in early childhood education is too great. Society for Research in Child Development Social Policy Report, 22, 13.Google Scholar
  78. Strickland, D. S., & Riley-Ayers, S. (2006). Early literacy: Policy and practice in the preschool years. A Preschool Policy Brief, 10, 1–12.Google Scholar
  79. Tabors, P. O. (2008). One child, two languages: A guide for early childhood educators of children learning English as a second language. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.Google Scholar
  80. Tout, K., Zaslow, M., & Berry, D. (2006). Quality and qualifications: Links between professional development and quality in early care and education settings. In M. Zaslow & I. Martinez-Beck (Eds.), Critical issues in early childhood professional development (pp. 77–110). Baltimore: Brookes Publishing.Google Scholar
  81. Tripp, T. R., & Rich, P. J. (2012). The influence of video analysis on the process of teacher change. Teaching and Teacher Education, 28(5), 728–739.Google Scholar
  82. Tu, T. (2006). Preschool science environment: What is available in a preschool classroom? Early Childhood Education Journal, 33(4), 245–251.Google Scholar
  83. Vallet, L. A. (2007). What can we do to improve the education of children from disadvantaged backgrounds? Globalization and education: Proceedings of the joint working group. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences, pp. 127–155.Google Scholar
  84. Varol, F., Farran, D. C., Bilbrey, C., Vorhaus, E. A., & Hofer, K. G. (2012). Improving mathematics instruction for early childhood teachers: Professional development components that work. NHSA Dialog, 15(1), 24–40.Google Scholar
  85. Vescio, V., Ross, D., & Adams, A. (2008). A review of research on the impact of professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 24, 80–91.Google Scholar
  86. Watts, T. W., Duncan, G. J., Siegler, R. S., & Davis-Kean, P. E. (2014). What’s past is prologue: Relations between early mathematics knowledge and high school achievement. Educational Researcher, 43, 352–360.Google Scholar
  87. Wei, R. C., Darling-Hammond, L., Andree, A., Richardson, N., & Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the United States and abroad (Technical report). Dallas, TX: National Staff Development Council.Google Scholar
  88. Zaslow, M., Tout, K., Halle, T., Whittaker, J. E., & Lavelle, B. (2010a). Emerging research on early childhood professional development. In S. B. Neuman & M. L. Kamil (Eds.), Preparing teachers for the early childhood classroom: Proven models and key principles (pp. 19–47). Baltimore: Brookes Publishing.Google Scholar
  89. Zaslow, M., Tout, K., Halle, T., Whittaker, J. V., & Lavelle, B. (2010b). Toward the identification of features of effective professional development for early childhood educators. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.Google Scholar
  90. Zepeda, M., Castro, D. C., & Cronin, S. (2011). Preparing early childhood teachers to work with young dual language learners. Child Development Perspectives, 5, 10–14. Scholar
  91. Zhang, M., Lundeberg, M., Koehler, M. J., & Eberhardt, J. (2011). Understanding affordances and challenges of 3 types of video for teacher professional development. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27(2), 454–462.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Institute for Early Education ResearchRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA
  2. 2.Department of Early Childhood EducationEast Tennessee State UniversityJohnson CityUSA
  3. 3.Heising-Simons FoundationLos AltosUSA

Personalised recommendations